I picked up a new Ka-Bar Becker BK14 knife the other day. This knife is sold without scales, the side pieces that are attached to the metal handle, but I decided I wanted it to have some. So, I thought I’d document the process of making some and post about it. Here is the knife. It has a 3.25″ blade and a total length of 7″. It’s made of 1095 carbon steel and manufactured in the US.
This project can be completed with the basic hand tools seen in the picture below plus a drill. I used some other tools (as I’m sure you expected) but you can succeed using these. The metal files work well at shaping wood and having a range of cuts (how fine the teeth are) can speed the shaping up considerably. Drill bits are self explanatory and the coping saw allows you to cut tightly radiused curves.
Some folks like to use exotic woods for their scales, but as this is my first attempt making knife scales, I used some of the water oak I have on hand. The wood is still in large sections so the first order of business is to turn it into more useful sized pieces. Here’s what I’m starting with.
To create smaller pieces I’ll use the riving technique again. Riving is splitting the wood along its grain using a metal wedge such as a hatchet, ax, or chisel. First, I split out a small wedge of wood.
The wedge of wood is then rived in the other direction to produce rectangular pieces.
The next step is to crosscut the long pieces down to more useful sizes. You can use the coping saw pictured above or a giant backsaw like this one. Of course, any machine saw capable of crosscutting would work as well.
With the oak cut down into smaller sizes, I need to create a flat surface that will rest against the knife handle. To do this, I used my #5 hand plane but this could be accomplished using a metal file and checking it against a reference surface such as a counter.
With a flat side, you can decide how thick you want the scales to be and mark a line. Offset a little bit to leave a little extra and rive the piece again.
Finally, the wood has been reduced to a appropriate size. I chose to trace the outline of the knife and then sketch lines where I want to cut the wood. At this point, write something on the inside surfaces of the scale so that you don’t get the insides and outsides mixed up. Yes, you can mix them up quite easily.
With the lines marked, the piece can be cut using your coping saw or in my case the band saw. Be sure to leave a little extra material around your lines, as you can’t add wood back on. On one of the pieces I cut the back circular portion with the band saw. On the other, I drilled that section out. You can imagine which worked better.
Next, start shaping the scale to match the profile of the handle. At this point, I’m only concerned with matching the edges not rounding the corners. You can do this using metal files, as I did, sand paper, or a belt sander. If you’re handy at carving, you can shape them that way as well. I wouldn’t recommend the belt sander at first. As you can remove material so quickly with it, you may get in trouble. Using the metal files or sand paper allows you to sneak up on your chosen shape. I used my vise to hold the pieces, but you can hold them in your hand to shape them if need be. Compare the scale to the knife frequently to assure you don’t remove too much material.
Once one scale has been shaped, it can be used as a guide for the second one. Trace the shape of the first onto the second and start working on it. Once the second scale is close to the shape of the first clamp or tape them together to work on both of them at the same time. This assures that both scales will be the same.
Once the two scales are sized, you can start to round the edges over and add any details you want. Here’s how they look on the knife at this stage.
Here they are sitting on the bench. See how easy it would be to get them mixed up? I’m glad I noted which side is the inside.
Round the edges using the metal files, sand paper, etc to whatever shape you desire. I went with a simple rounding over of the edges and tapered the front and back edges. At this point don’t concern yourself with making every surface perfectly smooth by sanding to a high grit. Just get them close because we still need to drill the holes for the screws that hold the scales together. Here’s how it looks on the knife at this stage. You can tape them to the knife to see if you like the overall profile.
If you can, try to make use of objects as guides when shaping your scales (or anything else for that matter). I chose to use this government approved object to size the ends of my scales.
Once the first scale is done, it’s time to start on the second one.
As you’re shaping the scales be sure to check them on the knife to be sure you like the profile.
Due to the shape of this knife, I needed to create a filler piece to keep the scales in place. I used the same methods discussed above to create the filler piece. It will hold the machine screws in the correct location so that the scales have more than clamping pressure, which I wouldn’t trust in this application, to restrict their movement. Be sure to make this filler piece a little less thick than the knife so that it doesn’t hold the scales off the side of the knife handle. Here’s the filler piece in place.
To attach the filler piece to one of the scales, use some super glue. Put the filler piece in the knife and put some glue on one side. Press the scale on the glued side of the knife until it sets. Be certain you get it in the right place! This piece only needs to be held in place during the cross drilling so absolute strength is not required. The super glue dries quickly and allows you to get back to scale making after a short delay. Once the glue has set, you can pop the part out.
Mark the locations where you want the screws to be on one scale and drill them out with a small drill bit. I used a 1/16″ bit. This is only a guide hole at this point, I want it to be small so the Forstner bit I’m about to use doesn’t walk. Here’s the scale with the holes drilled.
Put the scales on the knife and tape everythin together so nothing can move. Using the small drill bit again, drill through the other scale using the scale with the holes already in it as a guide. You can do this with a hand drill, but yes I’m using the Clausing again. You would too.
Your screw hardware will dictate what occurs next. I wanted to recess the heads and bolts below the surface of the scales. If you don’t want to, you can skip this step. You want the hole that the screw hardware sits in to have a flat bottom. The best way to accomplish this is using a Forstner bit because it leaves a flat bottom. A Forstner bit centers itself with a small point in the middle of the bit. If this point can’t dig into the wood, the bit will move around leaving a poor looking holes. This was why I used a small bit to drill the holes in the step above. Figure out how deep you want to go and then drill the pockets out. A drill press makes depth control easy but if you’re very careful you could do it with a hand drill.
At this point, you can go and drill the holes out so that your machine screws will fit in. If needed, drill the holes a little larger so you can move the scales around a little bit. The machine screws have round heads which will fit in the Forstner bit holes without issue. The nuts on the other hand…not so much. If you oversize the holes then the nuts may spin. You could glue the nuts in if you go this route. If you make the holes a little smaller, the nuts can be pressed into the holes. You can use a longer screw and tighten the screw to pull the nut into the wood. Be warned though, you can also pull the screw head down into the wood. You could also press or hammer the nuts in if the hole is close to the size of the nut. Another method would be to mark around the outside of the bolt and chisel into the wood.
With the nuts pressed in, you can remove longer screws and put your real screws in.
A view from the back.
Another couple of views.
You’ve probably noticed the scales are still a little rough. This is intentional. I’m going to use the knife for a little bit and see what I think of the shape of the scales. Since you’re building instead of buying, you can customise the shape to be exactly what you want. If needed, I can come back and change the shape of the scales. Once I’m happy with the shape, I’ll sand them to a higher grit and finish them. I’ll probably also darken the nuts to match the screws. I may also strip the black coating off of the knife at some point. When I do all of this I’ll post about it. Here’s what I decided: Scales Part 2
I’ve looked on forums and it always seems people like to show their knives sticking into something. Since I don’t want to be left out, here is my picture.